Rising prices could deliver blow to PPV

Alam Khan - Reporter 08:50 14/04/2015
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Mayweather (l) vs Pacquiao is set to rake in TV money.

It is the most anticipated fight for years, but even with the projected numbers for Floyd Mayweather Jnr’s meeting with Manny Pacquiao it no be concluded that all is well with boxing’s long-standing pay-per view model.

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Generating an estimated $300 million (Dhs1.1bn), if not more, the May 2 showdown in Las Vegas between the welterweight pair is set to be the richest fight of all time and one to make the world take notice. It also epitomises how television has shaped boxing’s future with the cost being passed down to the viewers by the networks. It was something the legendary Evander Holyfield feared in 2011.

“What’s hurting boxing is they’re not putting it on free television. When you put anything on television, it represents somebody,” he said.

American cable giants Showtime and HBO will charge fans up to $99.95 (Dhs370) to witness the action from the MGM Arena – $25 (Dhs90) more than the previous top pay-per-view price when Mayweather faced Canelo Alvarez in September, 2013. In the UK, Sky saw off fierce competition from Frank Warren’s BoxNation channel to gain the rights, and has set a £19.95 (Dh120) price for showing on its Box Office channel until May 1, rising to £24.95 (Dhs155) on the day of the fight itself.

Yet it is widely expected that it will take around 1.5 million buys – topping their record 1.2m for Mayweather’s victory over Ricky Hatton in 2007 – to help them break even. It is a gamble. Just as it could be when Sky presents a PPV night of action on May 30 at London’s O2 Arena in conjunction with Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Sports.

That will see Kell Brook defend his IBF welterweight world title against fellow Briton Frankie Gavin, while WBC lightweight champion Jorge Linares defends his title against Kevin Mitchell and Lee Selby bids to wrest the IBF featherweight title from Evgeny Gradovich. The reaction from boxing enthusiasts that the card was to be reserved for PPV ranged from disbelief to anger.

It certainly begs the question as to how long it will be before fans vote with their feet, or in this case their TV remotes.

“Is Frankie Gavin-Kell Brook a pay-per-view fight? Are these bills value for money? I think it’s pushing the fans too far and you will lose the casual fans if it continues,” argues Paul Speak, agent to former world champion Hatton.

“It’s bad enough having to subscribe to networks, but when you have to pay extra it becomes a bit galling. With Mayweather-Pacquiao most won’t mind, but Sky at the moment are looking to do pay-per-view events as a way of generating more money and as a boxing fan I don’t like it. It seems terrestrial television can’t afford the big fights and there has to be a balance.” 

The pay-per-view issue is firmly in the spotlight at present as there are big changes happening to the business side of boxing in the US. While a fight on the scale of Mayweather/Pacquiao is a licence to print money, the business model of the sport’s new figurehead, Al Haymon, suggests he realises that pay-per-view could soon be a thing of the past.

Haymon has signed more than 200 fighters and last month launched Premier Boxing Champions, a new series being shown on free-to-air channels via slots he is bankrolling. The idea for Haymon is that once established, his all-star roster will recoup his investment and more through advertising and sponsorship.

“The face of boxing is changing quite dramatically in my opinion,” adds Speak.

“You’ve got Al Haymon in America and he’s got a vision and, as I understand it, he wants to emulate the UFC, with one guy in charge and he can make sure everyone fights each other. 

“Haymon is going to be a big player and is trying to get terrestrial television to buy back into boxing because it needs television.”

Asif Vali, former business manager to two-time world champion Amir Khan, believes Mayweather-Pacquiao is the exception, not the rule, and spells out the risks on all sides of the fight game.

“[In the UK] Sky wants quality fights on a subscription channel and these quality fights need to be made by promoters.

“If people buy in, then everyone gets paid, but if people don’t buy in then it’s a problem for these fighters and promoters. How can TV companies bid for the big fights when they haven’t got the budgets to pay for it? The only way you are going to get that is fighting on pay-per-view and you have to deliver big fights.

“That’s a huge price to pay all those boxers. It’s a massive gamble and how does that gamble pay off? There’s only two types, one is the gate and the second is the revenue from pay-per-view as you are not getting the money from sponsorship that you used to get.

“Boxers want the best possible pay and don’t see the expense side of it. The team comes across and stays in hotels for seven days prior to the fight and you are doing that with a number of teams and with flights and expenses, all the officials and great MCs, bills are up to £100,000 and more.

“You lose money, you can go bankrupt. It’s tough. Mayweather-Pacquiao will be a one-off. You are never going to see these numbers again, never. This is going to be a crazy pay day, crazy numbers.”

Steve Lillis, a pundit and reporter for BoxNation, a dedicated 24-hour boxing subscription channel that launched in 2011, adds: “You have Sky Sports who do a great job. A tiny percentage of their airtime is boxing, but they still give the exposure.

“Now they are going down that pay-per-view route because there’s going to be savage cuts at Sky once the new Premier League football TV deal kicks in from 2016. Boxing will suffer, it will become a pay-per-view thing for them.

“We have got Al Haymon now who is running riot over there, signing up fighters and doing airtime deals with CBS, NBC, ESPN. Whether that will happen [in the UK], I don’t know.”

Boxing, though, is a “selfish, uncompromising, lonely sport” according to Lillis, who has been covering the sport for UK newspapers since 1989, and why he does not begrudge Mayweather and Pacquiao cashing in.

“Mayweather-Pacquiao is a massive massive fight, yes, one of the biggest of all time, but not as big as Sugar Ray Leonard versus Thomas Hearns. It’s not – that was a fight on at cinemas around the world.

“It’s still a brilliant occasion and puts boxing in the mainstream but it isn’t two men fighting at their best. Maybe there wouldn’t have been the same money swilling about before, but that doesn’t make it a better fight.”

With this being possibly the swansong of two greats, there is also concern there may not be similar superstars in the future to justify pay-per-view shows. But Vali believes Amir Khan could step up, so too Andre Ward.

And Lillis added: “There’s Keith Thurman too. He could be the heir apparent to Mayweather, while Deontay Wilder has brought excitement back to the heavyweight division, and Russians coming through like Sergey Kovalev and Artur Beterbiev.

“Mayweather is the biggest star right now, but is he good for boxing? He fights twice a year and controls the sport to a certain extent. Perhaps boxing will be better off when he goes. Boxing has had its obituaries, but it will always be there.”

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